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Herriman Journal

Governor’s office hosts regional resource fair in Herriman to help refugees, immigrants

Feb 29, 2024 03:38PM ● By Elisa Eames

Mayor Palmer (left), who volunteers with CAEC, speaks with Natalie El-Deiry (middle) and another volunteer. (Elisa Eames/City Journals)

Last month, Herriman played host to several state government officials, representatives from Utah charitable organizations and Spanish-speaking immigrants from all over the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. 

The Pathways to Employment for Recent Arrivals and Resource Fair took place on Feb. 3. and was free to the public. The event was held at Herriman City Hall but not an official city event. Instead, it was a collaboration between a handful of organizations, including Columbus Adult Education Center, Alianza Venezolana of Utah and the Utah Center for Immigration and Integration, which is part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. 

Dozens of volunteers from the community and local organizations donated their time and knowledge to help make the fair a reality. The advertisement literature for the fair stated that the purpose was to assist attendees in applying for an “Employment Authorization Document with legal service providers, and to learn about other resources including English classes, connect with local education programs and more.” 

An EAD is also known as a work permit. Visitors could also peruse various resource booths, such as for maternity care and free English classes.

The GOEO received calls from as far away as Idaho with questions about attending the fair, and an overwhelming number of people came to the event. 

“The amount of people who showed up, both registered and unregistered, blew me away given the fact that this is itty bitty Herriman,” said Marco Escobar, who volunteers on the Culture Alliance Board for nonprofit Friends of Herriman and as the Ethnic Advisory Committee Chair for CAEC. He is in charge of inclusion for Friends of Herriman, so at the fair, he helped register attendees for English classes through CAEC.

The fair was set in motion back in 2023. “Lorin [Palmer] called me one day and said, ‘there are so many people doing things to help, but we don’t know what the need is,’” Escobar said. “I said, let’s do a summit to find out what the needs are.” 

Organizers expected a handful of people to attend the summit, which took place Oct. 6, 2023, and were astounded when they got 60. Attended by Natalie El-Diery, director of Immigration and New American Integration under the GOEO, and Sean Marchant, board president of the CAEC, the summit served to create a network of individuals and organizations in the community able to help meet needs, allowing them to work together to identify resources and determine physical, social, educational and legal requirements of the growing immigrant population.

An immigrant from Guatemala who was once undocumented, Escobar understands the upheaval of relocating to another country. In the 1980s, his mother crossed the southern border of the United States illegally in the trunk of a smuggler’s car. Escobar was 3 or 4 years old and grew up blissfully ignorant of his family’s illegal status. It wasn’t until he was 14 that his parents finally dropped the bomb—when he, as a top student and hard worker, told them he wanted to get a job. 

His parents had lived for years in constant fear of being caught, and for nearly six more years, Escobar shared in that fear. In 2003, he was finally able to begin the path toward legal status when he was in his early 20s, and in 2016, he became a citizen. 

Soberly, he recalls the considerable length, complexity and expense of these processes, but because of his experiences and involvement in Friends of Herriman and CAEC, he feels he is in an uncommonly advantageous position to help the Latino community. 

“The Inclusion group [of Friends of Herriman] is designed to ensure minority groups are represented and have their voice heard regardless of race and ethnicity, ability, gender, religious affliction, and sexual preference. We strive to support all and be a great reference,” Escobar said.

Nonprofit Alianza Venezolana en Utah (Venezuelan Alliance of Utah), or AV, which aims to connect members of the Latino community with available resources, also lent its support at the fair. 

Jesler Molina of AV emphasized how critical it is for immigrants to learn about U.S. laws and to find an immigration lawyer, despite the discouraging wait times. 

“There is a three to four-month wait for immigration law firms,” Jesler said, shaking his head. “While they are waiting, people try to survive however they can. If someone comes to Utah without a connection, like family or friends, it’s so much harder to survive.” 

To find a lawyer, he recommends reaching out to organizations like AV that serve immigrants, as they can provide a list of attorneys in Utah. A colleague of Jesler at AV, Wilma Medina feels that fairs like the one in Herriman are important to help immigrants ease into their new lives. 

“A lot of people don’t know what to do or where to go, and this is the way to help people find some help,” she said. 

She also added a warning—arrivals should only go through proper channels to get immigration assistance. “We have problems with people who say they can help immigrants but then just take their money,” she said. “People are afraid because they’re not legal, and someone will say, ‘I have a friend who can help with documents.’” 

The sad reality, she explained, is that some will take advantage of people just looking for help. She emphasized that immigrants need to go to the official immigration office. Salt Lake immigration attorney firm SimpleCitizen and Salt Lake nonprofit Holy Cross Ministries met with attendees at the event. 

One fair attendee, Fernando Gallego, was granted temporary admission into the U.S. through the Humanitarian Parole program. 

“Humanitarian Parole is an extraordinary measure sparingly used to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website states. “Humanitarian Parole is not intended to be used to circumvent normal visa-issuing procedures, bypass delays in visa issuance, or immigrate to the United States. It is possible that a parolee can adjust to a permanent status from parolee.” 

Border officials may also choose to parole in migrants who arrive at the southern border. Gallego arrived in Utah on Dec. 15, 2023, with his wife, Yexi Colmenares, and their daughter, Maria. Born in Colombia, Gallego and his parents emigrated to Venezuela when he was a young boy, but six years ago, he, his wife and his daughter returned to Colombia to escape a thorny political situation. They applied for Humanitarian Parole to the U.S. last year. 

“I did it that way because it was the way to legally enter this country and then be able to adjust my immigration status through political asylum,” he explained via Google Translate. Gallego chose Utah because he has friends in West Jordan, where he and his family are staying. His parole will last two years, during which he hopes to find work as a mechanic or machine technician, learn English and begin the path to citizenship. 

“I have studied and worked in mechanics in my father’s auto shop in Venezuela since I was little,” he said.

Other ways to gain legal admission to the U.S. include arriving as a refugee, which means the person is experiencing persecution in their country of origin or fear that they will, or as asylum seekers, who qualify for refugee status but arrive without permission either through an authorized port of entry or an unauthorized route. Asylum seekers generally have one year to complete an application for asylum, which could take years to process. After a case has been pending for 150 days, the applicant may seek work authorization, which usually takes another 30 days to be approved. 

A person granted asylum has authorization to work in the U.S., may apply for a Social Security card, lobby to bring family members into the country and may also qualify for government programs, including Refugee Medical Assistance or Medicaid. 

“After one year, an asylee may apply for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a green card). Once the individual becomes a permanent resident, they must wait four years to apply for citizenship,” declares the website of nonprofit American Immigration Council. A small number of immigrants, such as those affected by natural disasters, are granted temporary protected status, which gives them permission to stay in the country temporarily. Many of those at the Herriman fair came into the U.S. by presenting themselves at a port of entry at the southern border and have already applied or plan to apply for asylum. 

Escobar maintains that many cities much larger than Herriman are buckling under the strain of recent arrivals. 

“And here is little ol’ Herriman with virtually zero infrastructure trying to help,” he said proudly. He emphasizes that educational programs and events, such as classes at the new CAEC Herriman location and the fair on Feb. 3, are not common across the country despite the need and are only possible here because of the countless volunteers willing to help. 

“Where we see a need, we fill it. It speaks to the culture of Herriman,” Escobar said. “That doesn’t happen in every community. That’s the reason that it’s working here.” λ



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